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How To Deal With an Adult Bully

Like most autistics, I was bullied in school. It was bad. It still affects me deep down. I think all bullied kids are still insecure as adults. But we have enough perspective at this point to know that every classroom had a scapegoat. We can bond over it now.

I wish I could tell that scared little girl that no adult goes out of their way to ruin your life the way a twelve year old will. (If you have an autistic kid, please tell them this.) But things don’t change that much otherwise. We still care just as much about status. Most of us rank people. Most of us aren’t above some gentle ribbing at some hilariously un self-aware person’s expense.

But some adults are still actually mean. Like my trust fund classmates in their late twenties who made snide comments that they thought I wouldn’t understand. I did. I was proud of myself actually. I wouldn’t have picked up on subtleties like that when I was younger. But I’ve also learned that you can’t really say anything back, because no one wants to back you up if you’re going against the cool kids. That’s just the way things are.

It sucks. I know. Our pride makes us want to take down Goliath. But that’s not how it works. I know a 30 year old man who’s endured some rather vicious bullying on the scene. He wants to stage some kind of coup. But he doesn’t have the charisma for that. He’s just going to make friends with a couple of people in power and count on them to vouch for him.

I don’t want to tell people to know their place. But know your place. We all do eventually. Know yourself and your friends and if someone’s being shitty to you, let it go. Sure, our pride dictates that we shouldn’t. But there isn’t much you can say to a bully that won’t make things escalate. If you’re indignant about this, remember that most bullies can’t stand to be without attention for two seconds. You don’t want to indulge them, do you?

Workplace bullying is harder. Generally we just get excluded. Which still sucks: it’s shitty to have to sit around 8 hours a day 5 days a week listening to people make inside jokes you’re not part of. But if you don’t care that much about your coworkers you can tolerate it. Most of the time I was just happy to get home.

I have had a few experiences at work where people were blatantly nasty to me. A few girls I worked with when I was a teacher were like that. My supervisor saw it right away. She deflected it for me when she could. I also had a manager who was real shitty to me for some reason. I think she was just a catty adult. She was catty in high school, catty in college, and now she’s catty at 32. Now in all fairness I wasn’t a good fit for that job. No one wants to deal with a coworker who can’t keep up. But it would have been nice if she’d pulled me aside and talked to me about it at some point instead of just being like “Welp. Your work sucks. You’re fired.”

Again, know yourself. If you’re in a situation that isn’t working for you then you have no moral obligation to be a hero. Just try to get yourself out as quickly as possible. Chances are if people are actively singling you out then you’re not in the right line of work for you anyway.

I don’t mean to sound like I’ve got it all figured out. It’s always hard to be an outcast, especially if you’re #ActuallyAutistic. We learned before everyone else did that the world’s not fair. But I remember the first time my mom told me- and this is true- that no one actually likes bullies. Even people who hang on their every word. It’s just that bullies are strong. And contrary to popular opinion they’re usually pretty smart too. There’s something invigorating about strong, smart people that we wish would rub off on us. We know we can’t trust them. But we’re always going to want their approval. Again, it’s just the way things are.


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How To Deal With an Adult Bully

Gwendolyn Kansen

Gwen Kansen is a mental health writer in New York. She likes food, karaoke, and smart-but-campy books & TV. She's hoping to capture a little sliver of life on here that might not be the first thing you'd see.

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APA Reference
Kansen, G. (2016). How To Deal With an Adult Bully. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Oct 2016
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